An interview with: Brad Keselowski, Todd Gordon
THE MODERATOR: Let's roll into our race winning team for tonight 17th Annual Ford 300 Nationwide Series race and our winner is Brad Keselowski. He drives the No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge for Penske Racing. He's joined by his crew chief, Todd Gordon. This is Brad's 17th career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory. His fifth in 2011. His first one here at Homestead Miami Speedway. And as the defending champion of this series, I know you've got to feel good about coming to Homestead Miami and winning the season finale.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yes, absolutely. You know, it's been kind of an up-and-down year on all sides, whether Cup or Nationwide side, and it certainly feels good to finish this year off very strong with a win and sitting on the pole today.
We had a very fast car for sure in qualifying. There was a couple moments where we struggled in the race for sure, but we worked on it and didn't spend a lot of time whining and moaning and made the most of it at the end.
Carl definitely put up a good fight, and it was going to come down to the last restart. I really thought once I had him cleared that I could drive away with the clean air, but I got to pushing real bad and he was able to drive right back up on me and from there it was going to be a dog fight. He fought hard and I fought hard and we were fortunate enough to come out on top.
THE MODERATOR: Crew Chief Todd Gordon, congratulations on this win. Talk about how things went down on pit road tonight.
TODD GORDON: We made a couple adjustments after practice not having second practice today and thought we would get a little more aggressive with travels and we kind of missed it really, over-traveled the car, wore the splitter, got on the splitter pretty hard there the first half of the race, and we kind of struggled with trying to get off of that all day.
But you know, we just kept plugging at it, and Brad never gave up and several rounds of around the car to try to get ourselves settled and away from the splitter, but it just comes down to Brad's talent when it comes to restarts and finishing. He pulled out a day that we probably didn't give him the best piece to work with, but he made it happen.
Q. Brad, how cool was it that you're last year's champion dueling this year's champion at the end?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: It was really neat.
Q. Talk about the passing of the torch like that.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Absolutely. My spotter was talking about it during the race with Carl being a past Nationwide champion and myself being last year's and racing with Ricky, it was kind of cool. It's good to see the sport and the progression that it takes. It's a good moment to reflect on where the sport is, was and is heading.
Q. For a while there it looked almost like it was between you and Carl. He said he tapped you but failed to hit you hard enough.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: (Laughing).
Q. Were you worried there as you kept blocking him that you might pay a price for that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I only put a move on him once. One move is cool; two moves is not. That's how I always feel about it. You get one move, and I used my one move. So that's kind of how I feel about it. I guess every driver has their own code and I used up my one move and he never made a second one.
Q. Do you know what your Nationwide plans are for next year, and if you don't run -- I assume you're not running as many races. Is that a good thing, a bad thing or what?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Sure. The thing about the Nationwide car to me, there's a lot of things about it, but the Nationwide program was a great opportunity for me to come into Penske Racing and be a part of creating something special in multiple ways, from being able to win a first championship for Roger to creating depth in a company that would serve us for years to come. And for me to have a shot at just being successful and feeling like if the Cup side didn't go so well, which I think to be honest, I had some suspicions it wouldn't, that I wouldn't lose my own confidence and that those around me wouldn't.
To make that all happen, it took commitments from people and those people work on the team, those people work in the shop and those people sponsor the race car. And so in order to live up to my end of that, and I've certainly been rewarded with it and we're starting to see success from that on the Cup side, I can't just run away from that. I've got to live up to that, and the commitments that those people have made to me, I've got to make the commitment back to them.
I plan on continuing that commitment to them and slowly scaling that down as the time passes by, and I think we looked at this year and I ran somewhere around 28 races approximately. Does that sound about right?
And you know, I would suspect that over the next few years that you will see that continue to roll back in a number of -- we lost six or seven races this year, and I would assume that would probably shed a few more next year and then the year after. Those things are always changing, so it's hard to give a definitive answer, but that would be my own expectations.
Q. Brad, we mentioned 17 wins. Do these wins, some mean more to you? Do you kind of lose some of them as you go along, or does the last one feel pretty good?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: You're only as good as your last win, you know. I don't know. To me I always feel like not only are you only as good as your last win but you never know when your last win is going to be, so you'd better savor it.
I've been through up-and-down patches in my life as a race car driver and I can remember being a crew member and going through a patch of four or five years not winning a race and, damn, it sure made me appreciate the ones that I was able to win before that. I sure as hell don't take it for granted. This could be the last one of my career as far as I'm concerned.
I feel like every time I get in a race car, I have something to prove; and when you're able to prove it like we're able to do today as a team, it feels pretty damned good to me.
Q. Todd, from your perspective, talk about what winning this final race of the season means and what it means after coming off the championship season with Brad and as you look ahead with him saying his schedule is going to decrease. From your perspective what does that mean to you and the team?
TODD GORDON: To reflect on the year, we kind of built -- I made my pre-race comment, but we kind of lost some continuity from what the 22 team was last year, had a lot of new faces, myself being one of them. The car chief came over from a different place. The engineer, we've had a couple different that weren't here. So we built a lot of chemistry this year, and I think the last half of the season shows a lot for that.
A couple things that are unique about this year: Brad has won five races in the 22 car this year, none of which were at racetracks he won at last year. So we've got 11 wins over the last two seasons at 11 different racetracks, and Kurt won Watkins Glen, which was the 12th racetrack.
We've accomplished some different -- we've had success at some different places, and I think winning this is just -- it sends the team in the off-season with an extra little hitch in their step. It gives us something to build off of for the off-season and look forward to for next year.
However it works out, I mean, I think we went through the summer months when Brad had his injuries and we shuffled four different race car drivers into our cars and I think we were competitive with all four. You know, it's one of the things we've got here at Penske is we've got talent. Roger does a good job of supplying us with that, and I don't want to give Brad up, but I understand where the program is at.
We'll be here, together for a majority of the races next year, and we'll work in the off-season pretty hard to make sure that whatever we're going to do to fill the little voids, we'll be ready and in step for 2012.
Q. Do you think some of the stuff we saw on the restarts today guys will have seen and try tomorrow unless the guy who is second was able to really get a good run?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Sure. You know, the way the Nationwide cars are, it's quite a bit different than the Cup cars as far as restarts are concerned. With the low power situation, it's almost like a tag team on the restart. Whoever has the best tag team comes out front.
It can be a little awkward at times, but I think almost every restart, whoever restarted second took the lead or at least more than not. It would be an interesting stat. But that's kind of par for the course on the Nationwide side, and that's got more to do with the power situation and the side drafting than, I think, anything else. And Cup cars seem to be quite a bit more immune to that.
Q. Brad, you won the Nationwide title last year. You've spent a lot of time on the track the last two seasons with Ricky. Can you tell us a little bit about why you think he made such a great improvement from last season to becoming a champion this year?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I think with Ricky, I think his cars were pretty far off last year, and I think same thing for Carl and really all that team. By the end of the season they found something, and they got their cars better. They've got that new engine over there, which was a huge gain for them in both power and weight savings. So I think that was a huge gain for them.
And I think once his cars got more competitive, he was able to be more competitive without pushing as hard, and I think that that's a big learning curve. When you find yourself running 90 percent and you're able to run 5th to 10th, you're okay with running 90 percent for a little while. You can kind of settle in.
When you find yourself running 90 percent and you're running 15th or 20th or whatever that might be, you find yourself driving at 100 percent, and you find yourself taking chances or kind of going all in on some bad hands, so to speak. So it makes life a lot easier on you when your cars are more competitive.
I think his cars are more competitive, and that has allowed him or opened a box in his own mind that allows him to understand better how hard he needs to push. He's done a great job picking that up this year, and that's what every driver needs to learn. That's why teams are so important, because the first brick, the foundation of any race team, is the speed you have in the car, and from there it's -- you put up the sides of the house with the pit crew and you worry about the roof, the roof being the race car driver. But you've got to have that good foundation and that's speed in the car and everything else is built off of that.
I think that camp over there did a good job of making their program better, making their cars better, and Ricky was able to make something out of that. So he deserves some credit, too.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, congratulations on tonight's victory. Enjoy it. And Brad, good luck tomorrow.